Forks on wheels

It takes all sorts to make the world go around. Many of us have our pet peeves, our passions, our preferences, and yet few of us ever do anything about them. Most of us are content to sit back and watch the world go by, and as long as things don’t directly impact our own lives, we’re happy to live and let live. We do our bit for the environment by recycling our plastic and our glass, give to the needy, and live within the moral boundaries set for us or set for ourselves. And for most, that’s enough.

But for Beth Martin (who grew up in the UK) and Julia Mason (who grew up in Hong Kong), life is a little bigger, and the world is about to get a lot smaller.

Science graduates both, they left university last year and decided to take some time out before engaging with their careers. Both are passionate about food – and in particular, food waste. They’ve formed their own opinions about the reasons behind the shocking waste of food: ‘an inefficient process from farm to plate, outrageous regulations, excess stocking and unrealistic expectations of consumers driven by an ever demanding, ever competitive market’. Sadly, it all rings true.

But the ladies are open to learning – to seeing firsthand what goes in the world’s supply chains and why this waste is happening. They want to understand the mindset behind this waste and how it differs across countries. In an interview with Endeavour 360 (an archive of news and inspiration from the world of adventure travel that boasts the lovely, life-affirming strapline: find a way, or make one) – the pair laid out their plans to cycle 16 000 km from the UK to forksChina. It’s a long way, certainly, but not nearly as long as the distance some of our food travels.

Their grand plan is to learn as they go. They want to discover more about the world’s food production processes, how farmers operate, and what food means in the various countries they will travel through. On their journey (which began on 11 April), they will be collecting stories, capturing them on film and in photographs, and then sharing them with others in the hope that they can get people to listen, and then to act. Their project, Forks on Wheels, is geared up to make a difference.

There is enough good in the world to go around, if only we were more responsible about how we produce it and how we consume it, and more conscious about how we waste it. That’s a sobering thought. And the vast majority of us are culpable. I wrote some time ago about an enlightened friend of mine buying just one carrot, and the changes that prompted me to make in my own consumption habits. There’s still work to be done but I’m getting there.

Just four weeks in and their Facebook page is like a larder filled with inspiring stories about others who are making a difference and working to put the consciousness back into consuming. The good news is that the ladies are heading our way. Beth and Julia contacted me last week to tell me that Budapest is on their itinerary.

A message from the pair:

We will be arriving in Budapest on Friday, 15th May (5 days) and we would love the opportunity to speak with anyone involved in food waste or with a perspective on food waste in Budapest. Our e-mail address is [email protected]. Best wishes, Beth and Julia.

If you can help them, please do. If you know of anyone involved in food waste, forward their invite. The world needs more people like them, people who care enough to try to keep it going ‘round.

First published in the Budapest Times 15 May 2015

Waste not, want not

waste2‘Hang on,’ he said. ‘I’ll only be a minute. I just need to get a carrot.’ I know I heard him correctly but I figured something must have been lost in translation. Who goes into his local greengrocers and buys just one carrot? But he came out with just that – a single carrot. When I asked, somewhat incredulously, why he had just bought one carrot, his answer was simple: ‘I just needed one.’ Duh!

A few days later, in my local greengrocers, a well-heeled man in front of me was buying two eggs. I looked on in something just shy of amazement as this perfectly groomed epitome of corporate success carefully placed both eggs in his hand-tooled leather briefcase, knotted his cashmere scarf, and paid, in cash, for his purchase. Who buys just two eggs, I wanted to ask, but didn’t.

Last week, I was at a pig killing. In just under five hours, 158 kg of live pork had been butchered with not a gram of waste. The entrails went to feed to wild boar in the local forest. The meat cuts were sectioned into manageable parcels. The innards were boiled and then added to rice and spices to make kolbász, liver and blood sausage. Looking down at the vat of cooked mush, the various bits and pieces were pointed out to me to sample – the ear, the kidney, the liver, the nose. Every last piece of the pig was accounted for. Not a bit wasted.

cabbageThen yesterday, I looked at my vegetable box and saw a half-rotted pepper, a slightly blackened head of cabbage, and some mushrooms that were boasted more wrinkles than an octogenarian sun worshiper. They were sitting atop a none-too-yellow lemon, a shrivelled courgette, and a squishy tomato. I opened my ‘fridge and saw three items long past their use-by dates. I went to the pantry and a quick survey of my cans and jars revealed a five-year supply of Worcestershire sauce, red wine vinegar, and salt.

I don’t have Armageddon leanings. I’m not a hoarder. And while I like to have a back-up bottle of washing-up liquid and an extra shampoo to hand, and my equilibrium is quickly upset if I run out of loo roll, I really have to get a handle on this food waste.

Globally, about one third of food produced for human consumption is discarded annually. One third. That’s a lot. Too much. ‘Every year, consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million tonnes) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes).’ Organisations like the Hungarian Food Bank rescue food from retailers and restaurants – food that is about to pass its sell-by date – and distribute it to over 300 000 needy souls in the country. And at an organisational level, that works.

But I’m not an organisation.

waste image

I can’t for the life of me figure out why I feel the need to stock up every time I go to the supermarket. I plan meals days in advance knowing full well that those plans are subject to the whims of others and the vagaries of time. I have a trolley-load of shops within carrying distance of my kitchen so it’s not like any special effort on my part is required. I could go every day. No problem. But for some reason, I see this as a waste of time, preferring to make the pilgrimage once a week. And the result? Pure, unadulterated waste.

But balancing a perceived waste of time against an actual waste of produce, there’s really no argument, is there? Duh!

First published in the Budapest Times 9 January 2015